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Lexington, KY 1-21-23

The ‘Cats returned to Rupp Arena for the second time this week to take on the Texas A&M Aggies (13-5, 5-0 SEC) on Saturday afternoon. The ‘Cats were fresh off back-to-back SEC wins over Tennessee (63-56) and Georgia (85-71) before they took the floor against the Aggies. Texas A&M entered the game undefeated in SEC play on the season, with their best win of their season coming against Missouri (82-64). The Aggies were ranked No. 56 in the latest NET rankings and were sporting a 7-game winning streak when they arrived in Lexington. The Aggies offense is led by Wade Taylor IV (15.2 PPG, 3.7 APG), Tyrece Radford (12.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Henry Coleman (9.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG). For the ‘Cats, they entered the game with a NET ranking of No. 40. The ‘Cats are led by Oscar Tshiebwe (17.5 PPG, 14.2 RPG), Antonio Reeves (12.2 PPG, 39.8% from three), Jacob Toppin (11.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.1 APG), and Cason Wallace (10.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG) on their offensive attack. Tshiebwe had his best game of the season in the ‘Cats matchup against Georgia on Tuesday night earlier in the week when he collected season-high totals of 37-points and 24-rebounds. The spread for Saturdays game was -5.5 in the ‘Cats favor with an over/under total of 134.5 points for the game. This game was important for the ‘Cats in order to keep their momentum rising as they look ahead to a home matchup against No. 2 Kansas next Saturday. Some keys to look for in the game against the Aggies for the ‘Cats was the usage of the newly patented “core” lineup of Wallace/Frederick/Reeves/Toppin/Tshiebwe, the bench impact (Wheeler/Livingston/Thiero/Ware/Onyenso), team shooting (three-pointers and free-throws), and continuing to set the pace for the game with a consistent and efficient offensive effort.

The starting lineup for the ‘Cats featured Wallace, Frederick, Livingston, Toppin, and Tshiebwe.

Game Recap:

The game began with back-to-back offensive fouls for both teams. The first points of the game came via a driving layup by the Aggies 2:30-minutes into the game. The ‘Cats first score came via an offensive rebound and three by Frederick that brought the score to 4-3 Aggies. The score at the first mediat timeout was 6-3 Texas A&M. A Reeves three of a pump fake to shake the defender pushed the score into a 6-6 tie. A drive and alley-oop from Wallace to Toppin brought the score to 9-8 Aggies. Good ball movement and drives to the paint found Reeves for a wide-open layup that gave the ‘Cats a 10-9 lead. A smooth Toppin mid-range jumper brought the score to 12-11 ‘Cats with 12-minutes to play. Wheeler checked into the for the first time with 11:01 remaining in the first half. Reeves hit his second three of the game to push the ‘Cats in front 15-13 with 9:30 to play in the half. Wheeler found a wide-open Livingston for another three to push the ‘Cats lead to 18-13. Wheeler continued providing a spark off the bench with another good pass to find Livingston for corner three that brought the score to 21-15. A mini 6-0 scoring run by the Aggies tied the game at 21 apiece with 6:08 to play in the half. That 6-0 scoring run quickly turned into a 14-2 run over the course of a short 3-minute span to push the Aggies in front by a score of 29-23 with 4:09 remaining. A transition find from Frederick to Reeves for a three narrowed the Kentucky deficit to 29-26. Toppin evened the score at 29 with a three of his own on the ‘Cats next possession. The ‘Cats ended the half on a 3:19-minute scoring drought. The halftime score was 31-29 Texas A&M. Halftime story lines included Tshiebwe playing only 10-minutes (0 points, 3 rebounds) due to foul trouble. The ‘Cats were letting their shots fly from deep in the first half, rakcing up 21 three-point attempts while hitting 7 of them. Reeves led the way for the ‘Cats in first half scoring with 11 points, while Toppin was close behind with 9 points. The ‘Cats defense left much to be desired in the first half as the Aggies shot 57% from the field thanks to a lot of easy shots around the basket.

The second half scoring began with a Toppin floater to tie the game at 31. Frederick hit his second three of the game after a cold shooting first half (1-6 from three) that gave the ‘Cats a 34-31 lead. Wallace’s first points of the game came with 17:30 left in the second half and brought the score to 36-33 ‘Cats. A near 10-minute real-time delay by the officials to sort out a Flagrant foul (Tshiebwe) and Technical foul (Marble) got the Rupp Arena crowd a little antsy. On the next possession, Wallace hit a floater for the ‘Cats.  The score at the first media timeout was 40-37 Kentucky. A Wallace stop and pop three from the top of the key pushed the ‘Cats lead to 43-39 with 15-minutes left to play in the half. Tshiebwe’s first points of the afternoon came with a little under 14-minutes left in the second half and brought the score to 47-44 Kentucky. The Aggies went on a 7-0 run to push in front by a score of 51-47 at the under 12-minute media timeout. Toppin tied the game at 51 after Reeves added in two free-throws. An and-one opportunity from Tshiebwe pushed the score to 53-53 with 9:32 left in the game after the missed free-throw. Tshiebwe found a wide-open Reeves for a three that pushed the ‘Cats in front 56-53. A tip-in from Tshiebwe extended the ‘Cats lead to 58-53 at the under 8-minute media timeout. Toppin made 1 of 2 from the line with Wallace collecting the offensive board and finding Reeves for a three to push Kentucky’s lead to 63-57 with 5:45 to play. After two Texas A&M free-throws, the score sat at 63-61 ‘Cats. A Wallace up-and-under layup stretched the ‘Cats lead back to 4 at 65-61 with 3:24 left to play. A driving layup by Reeves brought the ‘Cats lead to 6 by a score of 67-61 with 1:47 remaining. Reeves and Frederick scored a floater and a mid-range jumper that gave Kentucky a 71-65 lead with 45-seconds to play. The ‘Cats made their foul shots in the final seconds and went on to win the game by a score of 76-67 over the Texas A&M Aggies.

The Aggies shot 49% from the field but just 19% from three (3-16). Kentucky shot 40% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc (11-32 from three). Tshiebwe and the ‘Cats outrebounded the Aggies 38-31 in the physical game. Tsheibwe led the ‘Cats rebounding effort with 17 (5 offensive). Wallace led the ‘Cats with 4 assists. Reeves had a game-high 23-points (5-11 from three), while Toppin added 17-points (4 rebounds, 3 assists). Frederick had 12-points (2-10 from three) and Wallace mixed in 11 second half points (4 rebounds, 4 assists) to round out the ‘Cats double figure scorers. After a 37-point effort earlier in the week, Tshiebwe scored just 7-points on Saturday but led the ‘Cats in plus/minus total with +22 in 29-minutes of action. The lineup of Wallace/Frederick/Reeves/Toppin/Tshiebwe scored a combined 70 out of 76 points (Livingston added 6-points) after scoring 79 out of 85 points versus Georgia earlier in the week. It’s clear that those five are the core of this Kentucky team and give them the best opportunity to win games this season. Wheeler, Livingston, and Ware can be spark plugs off the bench with Thiero and Onyenso seeing limited minutes in emergency situations (foul trouble or injury).

The ‘Cats hit the road for their next game when they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-9, 2-3 SEC) on Tuesday, January 24 in Memorial Gymnasium. Tip off is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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